The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Bethlehem College & Seminary exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples, and we do that by trying to model and instill habits of mind and heart, which see what is really there in the world and in the word, and understand what they see, and evaluate fairly what they understand, and feel intensely — either negatively or positively — what they have evaluated, and then apply to all of life that wisdom, and then express it with effectiveness.
Which implies that when you put the mission together with that strategy, we are a radically God-centered institution. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God, and we are relentlessly love-oriented — meaning if we don’t do this for the joy of all peoples and if we don’t see and understand and evaluate and feel and apply and express effectively for the good of others, we fail.
We are for the supremacy of God in all things and we are for the good of others. This is so relevant right now because our culture is collapsing, crumbling before our eyes at an unprecedented pace into a kind of evil that we would’ve thought unthinkable. And we who are Bible people are all tempted to be self-protective and fortress-oriented, which means the love dimension can just shrivel up, and we might be tempted to say, “They can go to hell because that’s the way they’re living.”
That’s not what we’re about. Fortresses are appropriate and have their place. The church is a bulwark and pillar of the truth. But to our dying breath, we live for others. My point in this message is to make a case from the Bible that thinking exists for the sake of loving.
Five Ways Thinking Is About Loving
My thesis is that thinking with right reason is a God-ordained means of loving others. Therefore, at Bethlehem College & Seminary, we aim to grow in our ability to think with right reason so that we may love others for Christ’s sake. That’s where we’re going. I want to give you five passages of scripture that show that to be the case. This is the hardest one and probably the most immediately relevant.
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” (1 Corinthians 8:1–4)
The issue at Corinth is: What do you do with meat sold in a marketplace that has been offered to an idol? May you eat it? If you eat it, may you invite others to eat it? If the pagans are eating it, can you go eat it with them? If somebody doesn’t think you should eat it, should you eat it in front of them, and a whole host of questions that not only have to be answered on the basis of the vertical, “Is it okay between me and you, God,” but “Is it okay lest I destroy anybody?” It’s a love issue — not just a freedom issue.
“We are for the supremacy of God in all things and we are for the good of others.”
The quotation marks in the text are editorial. They’re not in the original. They are the translator’s effort to say something that’s probably true, namely that those had become slogans. “All of us possess knowledge.” What’s the knowledge? “We know that an idol has no existence.” “We know there’s no God but one.” We know that. That’s true, and it was puffing them up, and they were destroying brothers with knowledge.
This knowledge puffs up. But that’s not what love does. So something’s wrong with that knowledge.
Can We Really Know?
If anyone imagines that he knows something, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:2)
Now, that’s an odd statement. It could so easily be taken to mean, “You don’t know anything, and you can’t know anything because if you think you know anything, you don’t.” Which means you should close up shop, Bethlehem College & Seminary, because you’re trying to get people to know things, and this just says if you know something, if you think you know something, you don’t know anything. So, that’s an odd sentence.
It clearly doesn’t mean that because ten times in this letter, Paul says, “Do you not know? Do you not know?
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Do you not know that we are to judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:2)
And if you know it, it should make a difference. And so, he’s not saying knowing things is wrong. He must be saying there’s a kind of imaginary knowledge. That’s not real knowledge. If you asked, “What would that be? What are wrong kinds of knowing?” Well, one answer would be, “If it’s puffing you up, you don’t know.” You know, but you don’t know. Your knowing is defective. Your knowing is broken. Your knowing faculty is being prostituted.
Known by God
Then comes verse 3, which is even more perplexing.
But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Where did that come from? I would’ve expected him to say this: “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know, but if anyone knows as he ought to know, he’s known by God.”
That just flows so wonderfully. I would’ve written it that way. Isn’t that good to be just smacked by the Bible against your expectations over and over again, which causes thinking to happen. The point of this talk is that thinking serves love. So, let’s figure it out. Paul didn’t say what I expected. In the place of “if anyone knows as he ought to know” he wrote, “if anyone loves God.”
“Thinking with right reason is a God-ordained means of loving others.”
That’s worth thinking about. I take that to suggest when Paul thinks of knowing as you ought to know, he’s saying that one way of defining that is loving God. One way of saying that is he knows you ought to know. You’re loving God with that. Loving God is happening when you know as you ought to know.”
What is this imaginary knowing and what is this right knowing? The imaginary knowing is knowing that puffs up, and right knowing is the knowing that builds up people through love and which loves God. Right knowing, not imaginary knowing, is vertically “I love you with my knowing,” and horizontally “I love you, you with my knowing.” If my knowing doesn’t make me thrill in God and love and lay my life down for people, I don’t know.
My brain has been turned into a prostitute, and I’m using it falsely for my own private ends and not for God’s glory and people’s good. That’s not the kind of thinking we want to teach here. My point is: right thinking produces love.
Hard Thinking Is Loving
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15–16)
Paul has wisdom. Peter says so, and Paul said so in 1 Corinthians 2:6–13. In essence, Peter says, “Paul teaches a wisdom that is not a wisdom of this world. It is a wisdom taught by the Spirit.” Paul claims to be a verbally-inspired echo of the wisdom of God, and so Peter says, “That’s the way Paul teaches. He’s of God. He is an authoritative, apostolic, true spokesman for the living Christ. Listen to him.”
Then he says — no surprise to us — that some things in his writings are hard to understand. Here’s my paraphrase of that: Hard thinking requiring words. Not impossible to understand. Hard. Not “shouldn’t be understood.” Hard. Well if they’re hard, what do you do? You work. You think hard.
“Which the ignorant and unstable twist.” They won’t do it. They won’t do it. They won’t work hard. They won’t push through. Why? Here’s a hard thing to understand. Here comes someone who’s unstable like the text says. You don’t want to be this. The person walks up, hits the rock of the hard thing to understand, pushes a little bit, falls down. “I’m done. Can’t do it. I tried. Ten minutes I worked on that text.”
No, you push. You push, and you push, and you cry. You pray, and you beat your head against the desk, and you push, and you study, and you push. Those who fall down are not taught, unstable. They fall down easy because they’re not taught. This is our mandate. We don’t want you to be like this. We don’t want you to bump up against hard things in the Bible — perplexing things in the Bible — and just fall down and play dead because, in reality, you don’t fall down and play dead; you get up and twist.
If you’re a pastor or a mom or a dad or a small group leader what are you going to say? Because you have to say something. You’re going to make it up. But it would be better if you were silent. If you fell down and don’t understand the text, you should just be quiet. But we don’t do that. If you have a job, and you’re paid to understand the text, and you don’t understand the text, you lie. When you lie, you destroy yourself, and if you’re a teacher, you destroy others, and that’s not loving. And therefore, hard thinking is a means of loving.
Consistency Is Loving
Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:22–24)
Now, what’s going on here? Jesus he has just healed a man on the Sabbath. The man was sick, and Jesus touched him and made him well. Awesome. Praise God. The Messiah is here. But the people didn’t respond that way. They got angry.
“Right thinking — consistent thinking — produces love.”
What does Jesus do in response to their anger? He’s just made a man well. They’re angry. He looks at them, and he thinks, and he reasons like this and beckons them to reason with him. “Now, you circumcise a man on Saturday, the Lord’s day. Why?” “Well, the Bible says to circumcise him on the eighth day. It fell on Saturday. I guess we need to do it and compromise convictions about not picking up any knives or doing anything like that on Saturday. We’ll make that adjustment.”
“Okay. I’m fine with that. So, why are you angry when I made a whole body well? You use your mind to develop a hermeneutic that enables you to obey the whole law by making adjustments appropriately for when the law seems to conflict with itself. You get it all fixed so that you can do what you think you ought to do, and when it comes to this, you’re inconsistent.” Isn’t that the point?
You’re inconsistent. You’re not following through rationally on your principles that you’ve already established of making some adjustments in what the law expects because the law says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”
“Can you make adjustments for this man? Do you have any heart for this man that enables you to be consistent in your judgments? Don’t judge by appearances. Use your brain rightly, because if you did, you’d be happy about this, and that’s loving.” To use your brain wrongly with wrong judgments, hates. Right thinking — consistent thinking — produces love.
Idolatry Flaws Thinking
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. (Matthew 16:1–4)
Jesus called them adulterous. Why? The bridegroom had come, the Messiah, and the bride was to be assembled for the bridegroom. They looked at their bridegroom, and what would you think if a bride looks at her bridegroom, and he says, “I’m here for you, darling,” and she looks at this other man off to the side over here, this man called money or sex or fame or whatever, and then looks at the bridegroom, and she says, “Prove it”?
Do you know what that says? If a bride stands in front of her bridegroom on a wedding night, and he says, “I’m so eager to have you,” and she responds, “Prove that you’re the guy,” everybody would say, “She’s got another guy. That’s all it means. She’s got another guy.” It’s him. She shouldn’t need any proof. It’s him. He’s right there in front of you. It’s your bridegroom. You know your bridegroom, don’t you, or do you have an affair going with another man? Yes, you do. You’re adulterous. You’re an adulterous generation.
Since that’s the dynamic of this moment, what does Jesus say? How does he deal with this? He talks about the sky. Let’s follow him. “He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, it’ll be fair. The sky’s red.’” So let’s get in our boats and fish all night. We’ll make a killing tonight, and we don’t have to be afraid the storm will rise in the dark because we knew we had the signs ahead of time. That’s just wonderfully smart in Aristotelian logic.
“Your brain dysfunctions when you have an idol.”
Premise number one: When the sky’s red in the evening, storms don’t come all night. Premise number two: It’s evening, and the sky’s red. Conclusion: Let’s go fishing.
Jesus is saying, “You’re thinking well. You have a brain. You’re using it. I love it.” I made it that way. “And in the morning, ‘It’ll be stormy today. The sky’s red and threatening.’”
Premise number one: When sky’s red in the morning, there are going to be some storms today. Premise number two: It is morning, and the sky’s red. Conclusion: We’re not going fishing.
Well done. Pure logic. Good observation. Right on. And you can’t do that but me. Why? Because you got a lover. That’s why. Your brain dysfunctions when you have an idol. You will use your brain to justify anything until your heart gets fixed. What happens when the bride is the Pharisee, and the Pharisee leads the people? Both of them fall into the ditch. That’s what happens.
When the blind lead the blind, they both fall in the ditch, and that’s the opposite of love, and therefore, wrong thinking kills people. That’s why Paul says, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). I’m really jealous for this to happen with us.